Messi will play Tuesday against Canada in Copa America semifinal

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NEW YORK — Lionel Messi won’t be stopped by a leg injury and will play in Argentina’s Copa America semifinal against Canada on Tuesday night.

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Messi has been dealing with a right leg problem since the 1-0 group stage win over Chile on June 25. He missed the first-round finale four days later but played the entire match in the quarterfinal victory over Ecuador last Thursday. Argentina and Ecuador were tied 1-1 after regulation time. Argentina then won 4-2 on penalties.

“Leo is good. He will be playing tomorrow,” Albiceleste coach Lionel Scaloni confirmed Monday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

At 37, Messi has 13 Copa America goals and is four behind the record shared by Argentina’s Norberto Mendez and Brazil’s Zizinho but hasn’t scored in this year’s tournament.

“It’s an easy decision for me,” Scaloni said. “It’s a fairly honest decision: I ask him how he feels. If he says ‘I’m not good,’ then he will play the last 30 minutes. When he’s available, he will play.”

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Seeking a record 16th Copa America title, Argentina beat surprising Canada 2-0 in the June 20 tournament opener when Messi set up second-half goals by Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez.

“We didn’t do well enough with Messi last match. He was able to run free at our goalkeeper too much,” said Jesse Marsch, the American hired as Canada’s coach in May. “We all know he’s the greatest player to ever play the game.”

Argentina outshot Canada 19-10, including 9-2 on target, and had 64 per cent possession.

“It’s more of (an) advantage that we were able to play against them than it was for them to play against us,” Marsch said.

Both teams are coming off quarterfinal wins on penalty kicks. Canada, an invited guest from North America, defeated Venezuela 4-3 on penalties after the sides were tied 1-1 after regulation time.

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In the other semifinal, Uruguay plays Colombia on Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C. The championship is Sunday at Miami Gardens, Fla.

Argentina will have four days’ rest, one more than Canada, but both teams are coming off tough 90-minute matches. Tournament regulations call for extra time to be used only if needed in the final.

Argentina is seeking to win its third major title after the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup and to equal the feat of Spain, which won the European Championship in 2008 and ’12 along with the 2010 World Cup. The Albiceleste are tied with Uruguay for most Copa America titles with 15.

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has won four straight shootouts, against Colombia in the 2021 Copa semifinals, vs. the Netherlands in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals and against France in the final, then vs. Ecuador last week.

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Martinez, 6-foot-5, constantly shuffling his feet and a chatterbox trying to distract opponents, saved eight of 18 shots, stopping Colombia’s Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona; the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis; France’s Kingsley Coman; and Ecuador’s Angel Mena and Alan Minda.

Canada was eliminated in the group stage of its only World Cup appearances in 1986 and 2022. It won the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup after gaining the title of a predecessor tournament, the 1985 CONCACAF Championship.

“We’re playing against the best team in the world,” said Cyle Larin, Canada’s career leader with 29 goals. “We have a lot of speed and power, but I think over those days we’ve been together we’ve been growing.”

— AP Sports Writer Eric Nunez in East Rutherford, New Jersey, contributed to this report

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